Your weekly brain-changing content in under 5 minutes:
Cognitive chocolate? It’s a thing.
Why you seriously need to take a holiday.
Pet a cat (okay, fine - or a dog); lower your cortisol.
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CHOCOLATE IS OUR FRIEND
TL;DR: Dark chocolate has flavanoids that are good for your brain.
This week, 33.3333% of our content is dedicated to chocolate! We’re telling you this info now so you can factor it into your upcoming Easter bunny decision-making strategy. First things first, I have to fill you in on flavanols.
A flavanol is a natural compound with neuroprotective effects. And guess where you can find loads of them? Chocolate. Well, actually the cocoa bean to be precise.
The flavanol effect
In a test, people that had ingested flavanols showed an increase in working memory performance and improved visual information processing several hours later.
In elderly individuals, cognitive performance is improved by a daily intake of cocoa flavanols. Factors such as:
Working memory, and
This was extra true in elderly individuals who were already experiencing mild cognitive impairments.
Is all chocolate created equal?
Definitely not. You need the good stuff. Look for dark chocolate with a high (75+) percentage of cocoa. All chocolate is going to have some sugar in it and a little caffeine, so just don’t hit the dark chocolate bunnies too hard and you’ll be fine.
Two weeks ago (remember? If not - time to up the flavanoids! 😉) I gave pumpkin marketers a tagline for pumpkin seeds and this week I have an idea for chocolate marketers. CogChoc. Pro-cognition chocolate. Would you buy it? In the meantime, here’s some Easter bunny chocolate high in flavanoids.
FOR THE NERDY: Pro-chocolate research. [Source: Frontiers - Enhancing Human Cognition with Cocoa Flavanoids]
TAKE A BREAK. SERIOUSLY.
TL;DR: Short breaks where you completely unplug increase health and well-being.
Most people aren’t using their holiday time
A Glassdoor study recently found that over 40% of UK workers took less than half their entitled holiday in 2018. The (lack of) holiday situation is even worse for our transatlantic friends: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2011, 90% of workers were given paid or unpaid leave at their jobs, but more than 50% of people didn’t use all that time.
What does that mean?
It means almost half of us are running around with high stress levels and not giving our nervous systems or bodies an opportunity to truly reset.
If we took a holiday, took some time to celebrate just one day out of life, it would be (it would be) so nice.
Did Madonna inspire the research I’m about to tell you about? Very possibly!
A study measured the impact of short vacations on employee health and well-being. Eighty workers reported their health and wellbeing levels before, during, and after a short break. This isn’t too surprising: the more relaxed and psychologically detached the workers felt, the more pleasure they got from their holiday activities and the longer they were able to carry these vibes on after returning home.
Channel these vibes
However: these short term breaks didn’t have long-lasting benefits. So you really need to embrace a YOLO vibe as you jet or train off on your brain-boosting holiday.
So go on - book that city break. Your brain needs it, your body needs it, and if you call the UK home, your vitamin d levels really need it.
FOR THE NERDY: Break time. [Source: NCBI - Effects of short vacations, vacation activities and experiences on employee health and well-being]
THE CASE FOR PETS
TL;DR: Time with animals lowers cortisol level.
There’s a scientific reason pet owners are some of the chillest people you know.
Your HPA axis
When you experience depression, anxiety, or social isolation, the hormones in your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis increase. Cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone” that gets released during fight-or-flight scenarios, is one of the main hormones involved here.
Researchers studied the effects of owning a pet and discovered it reduces the activity of the HPA axis. In other words, less cortisol = less stress.
Studies have also shown oxytocin release increases when we spend time with pets. Oxytocin is a key hormone involved in emotional attachment, positive physical contact, and social cognitive processes. Higher oxytocin levels have been associated with lowering heart rate, depression, and perception of pain.
All great things!
If you can't own a pet for whatever reason, try these tips:
1. Socialise with friends and family who do. Who wouldn’t love some help walking their dog?
2. Volunteer with an animal shelter. They often need people to volunteer to walk the dogs or just play with the animals.
3. Borrow My Doggy. You love dogs. Dogs need walking. This service allows you to be a temporary dog owner without the commitment.
Bonus pet facts
Giant Flemish bunny instagram accounts are a thing.
FOR THE NERDY: Here, kitty [Source: NCBI - Emerging Cardiovascular Risk Research: Impact of Pets on Cardiovascular Risk Prevention]